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Neurodivergent PGR academic learning experience research project

Neurodivergent PGR Students Academic Learning Experience Project

Principal Investigator: Dr Jagjeet Jutley-Neilson and co-investigator Dr Gemma Gray,

Luke Hodson, Damien Homer, Dr Tom Richie, Dr Bing Lu, Julia Fairbairn (PGR), Liam Medlin (PGR), Lauren Wilkinson (PGR) and Ellie Hornton (PGR)

 Background to the project

There is a paucity of research regarding the experience of disabled PGR students, and more specifically neurodivergent students, undertaking post-graduate research (PGR) studies in the United Kingdom (Ellis et al., 2021). This project aims to utilise co-creation practice to explore the learning experience of PGR students at Warwick. Following on from the recruitment of student co-creators, resources will be produced in partnership to support further staff and students working and studying at Warwick.

Literature has reported that neurodivergent individuals can experience unique challenges when pursuing post-graduate study, such as a PhD (Ayres, 2022). For example, individuals with ADHD may struggle with sustained focus or time management and strategies which were once helpful for undergraduate studies, may not work as effectively for postgraduate research studies. Individuals with autism may struggle with social interactions and find it difficult to build relationships with their supervisors or peers.

Despite these challenges, neurodivergent PhD students also bring unique strengths and perspectives to academia (Bertilsdotter Rosqvist et al., 2022). For instance, individuals with ADHD may have high levels of creativity and the ability to ‘think outside the box’. In contrast, individuals with autism may have exceptional attention to detail and pattern recognition skills. Furthermore, individuals with dyslexia may have excellent problem-solving skills.

Based on our previous research (Jutley Neilson et al., 2021) and ongoing discussions with PGR supervisors at the University of Warwick, we report that supervisors may have a lack of knowledge and understanding of neurodiversity, or they are unsure of how they can best support neurodivergent PGR students.

Compounding this issue at Warwick is the central provision of Disability Services, which can be heavily focused on undergraduate (UG) students, and the Doctoral College, which offers limited written guidance on best practices to support neurodivergent PGR students. This issue is not unique to Warwick, but it is widespread across the UK. While universities provide training programs for staff and mentor support (academic and mental health) for neurodivergent students, many are geared towards UG students. Some students have reported dissatisfaction with the provision, and PGR supervisors report a lack of training and central support to support them. Even noting these challenges, guidance on how to best support neurodivergent doctoral students is sparse, and supervisors find UG guidance does not always provide the ‘best fit’ for PGR students, due to the nature of their studies.

An interview extract from the neurodiversity student experience project below captures frustrations faced by neurodivergent PGR student and their supervisors.

“My supervisors are keen to support me and remind me to tell them if I need anything from them or to work in a specific way, but they do not have specific knowledge/training/understanding of ADHD and so it really is for me to inform and educate them. They are wonderful, but I would love it if the uni provided neurodiversity training for lecturers so they are better informed about how to support and offer suggestions to students.” (Amiya).

There has been growing recognition of the challenges faced by neurodivergent PhD students, but little is known about how the effectiveness of the current provision. Therefore, our study aims to create a PGR resource to support neurodivergent PGR students and their supervisors. We will used co-production and action research approaches to create this document with neurodivergent PGR students and supervisors. We will evaluate this resource through engagement and feedback. Training for supervisors and a publication will be created.

Aims of the project

The research element of this project will be to conduct three focus groups and a literature review.

1. Student Interviews to Investigate the experiences of neurodivergent PGR students, including the knowledge and support provided by their supervisors and other services.

2.Staff Interviews: Examine supervisors’ knowledge of neurodiversity, their experiences supervising neurodivergent PGR students, and their engagement with the Doctoral College and Wellbeing Services.

3. Focus group three: Explore the students’ experiences of mental health mentors and study skills tutors who support neurodivergent PGR students.

4. Literature review: Evaluate the national approaches to supporting neurodivergent PGR students.

Indented Outcome

This will culminate in a PGR staff, student resource pack, staff training for staff and an academic journal publication to highlight and share best practices.

Student Recruitment - Currently Closed - recruitment full

Do you have a diagnosis of/suspected of/ or are you on the pathway for a diagnosis of Dyslexia, ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Condition, Dyspraxia, Tourette’s, and Dyscalculia, and you are a PhD student?

If so, can you help us gather information about your learning and student experiences at the University of Warwick via a focus group or one-to-one interview or email asynchronously?

We will ask questions about your learning and teaching experience while studying at Warwick University. We want to use your experiences to help raise awareness and create an inclusive, good practice resource and staff training so that staff have the information to support better students. Importantly, we want to ensure that your student voice is at the heart of this project.

If you would like to learn more about the project and would like to take part, please click bLink opens in a new windowelow.…Link opens in a new window

Staff Recruitment - Supervisors and Mental Health Mentors

Do you support students as a PGR supervisor or mental health mentor who have a diagnosis or are on the pathway for a diagnosis for: Dyslexia, ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Condition, Dyspraxia, Tourette's and Dyscalculia.

If you do, you can help us gather information about knowledge, awareness, and inclusive practice approaches to supporting PGR students with the above diagnosis(es) at the University of Warwick.

If you would like to learn more about the project and would like to take part, please click here… opens in a new window

As a thank you for giving your time we will send you a £15 voucher, the focus group will be last about 1-1.30 hours

1-2-1 interviews on teams or asynchronously via email are also available if these suit better